Oak Brook, Ill. — Lightweighting and growing use of recycled content increase the need to tightly control the PET blow molding process, consultant Mike Urquhart said.
“As we go further and further, you're going to need a better and better control to able to take advantage of this and still get the cost savings,” he said.
Urquhart, a consultant from Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, and the former vice president of global sales for packaging systems at Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd., outlined industry trends at the Society of Plastics Engineers' Annual Blow Molding Conference.
PET bottles water bottles have been on a major weight-loss diet for years.
“Literally billions of pounds of PET saved, over the past decade, as what had been a 15-gram bottle, went to a 12, went to a 10, and now down in to an 8, 8 ½-half range for a lot of these products,” Urquhart said.
Less resin is both a good environmental message and a major cost savings, he said.
For precise control, Urquhart cited products like Agr International Inc.'s Process Pilot, which controls bottle variation on the blow molding machine. Two of the biggest water bottlers have standardized on Process Pilot for all their machines, he said.
Urquhart said PET has grown to about 50 percent of the beverage container market, but it accounts for less than 10 percent for home and personal care packaging and less than 5 percent for food.
“One of the big limitations of going much higher than this is the lack of a good, economical barrier material that doesn't screw up the recycling stream,” he said.
Husky and Kortec, Milacron Holdings Corp.'s coinjection molding unit, have made big improvements to reduce the amount of EVOH in the barrier layer, Uquhart said. He said Solvay Specialty Polymers and Husky have developed a major new innovation, Solvay's Verian High Barrier Polyester, where the barrier layer, like the layers sandwiching it, are both made of the same basic polymer.
“This could really be a game-changer in terms of markets we can address,” he said, such as small-sized carbonated soft drink bottles and beer.
Consumer product makers want to use more recycled plastics. Procter & Gamble Co. recently launched a program to use beach-waste plastics in its Head & Shoulders shampoo.
“More and more brand owners are going to this to appease the public, but in many cases, it's a good cost savings at the same time,” Urquhart said.
The consultant also had a message to blow molding machinery manufactures: Watch out for Chinese competitors. He said one such company, Tech-Long Machinery Co. Ltd., has “made big inroads since launching [in the U.S. market] really only a few years ago.” Tech-Long has a North American headquarters in Duluth, Ga.
“My message is competition is coming,” he said. “If you keep improving your product, you can stay ahead. Otherwise, you're going to be faced with someone who's claiming to be just as good, or almost as good as you are, at a much lower price.”
Urquhart gave a plug to the new Bottle Zone at next year's NPE in Orlando, Fla., which he said will be like a “mini Drinktec.” The zone will have more than 80 suppliers of machinery and related equipment and materials centralized in about 95,000 square feet of exhibit space.
NPE2018 attendees will see machinery blow molding bottles. The Orange County Convention Center is putting in a slab outside the South Hall for a compressed air generator to supply the bottle manufacturing, he said.